A LETTER FROM LONDON: Soaking Up the Summer Sun, an Amusing Private Lives and Daniel Radcliffe Goes Dark in The Cripple of Inishmaan

By Ruth Leon
17 Jul 2013

The monthly missive from Across the Pond introduces readers to summer in the city, Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor in Private Lives and Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

Summer finally arrived in London weeks after we'd given up on it. So late, in fact, that when it arrived we were all taken aback by its sweetness. The Royal Parks, the glory of our city living, are ablaze with floral color, the rose garden in Regent's Park is profligate in its almost absurd array of different hues and perfumes. Who knew there were so many varieties of roses? And, yes, it's hot, but nothing like the misery of a New York summer with all that humidity and the high buildings holding the heat. It's in the high 70s here during the day and the lobster-red of so many Londoners' skins at the end of a sunny day attests to some ill-advised and sudden exposure to Vitamin D.

It's not really theatre time, although the town is full of tourists who fill the seats at Wicked, Billy Elliott and Matilda. They dutifully troop around the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace but Londoners' hearts are down by the Thames at the ongoing outdoor festival that is held all day and night in lively Covent Garden Market. This is where the real summer theatre is to be found —  among the jugglers, street musicians, spontaneous performances and art exhibitions of a river city.

Here you can jump onto the London Eye, the rotating wheel whose capsules offer not only an unparalleled view all over London but also, should you wish it, the quintessential British summer drink, a long glass of Pimm's. Be careful, though. Pimm's tastes like fizzy fruity lemonade and packs a punch you won't be expecting. You can't miss London Wonderground, which has returned for its second spectacular year at Southbank Centre with a superlative line-up of circus, cabaret and family shows to delight and amaze, alongside bars, sideshows and outdoor performance spaces.

As you walk along the Thames on the South Bank, eating your way from one international foodie stall to the next and enjoying the outdoor entertainment that changes daily, you'll see some very big concrete beasts. These are our national showcases — the Hayward Gallery of Art, the British Film Institute for new and old movies, the Festival Hall for concerts, and, of course, the National Theatre. Without leaving the riverbank you can see a play in any of the National's four main performance spaces. They've just built the fourth, a big red wooden barn known as The Shed, already living up to its promise to provide new and experimental work.

This mass of activity Thameside is not to say that there's nothing happening on the streets in other parts of London. To the contrary, you can turn any corner and get caught up in a performance or concert. I just saw a splendid outdoor production of Julius Caesar all over the grounds, indeed, in the Actors' Church itself, amid the noise and flurry of Covent Garden. It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that even the buskers in the tube are becoming more accomplished and innovative. Coming out of the theatre the other evening, I heard a lovely mournful jazz version of 'Misty.' I looked around for the sax player to give him some coins but couldn't see him, even though the sound was close. Then I looked down. Sitting on the sidewalk was a young man playing...a traffic cone.


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